Half of children with mental health problems turn to their teachers for support, yet Northern Ireland schools are still vastly under-resourced, according to a teaching union.
Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was speaking today as a new report reveals the important role played by teachers in young people’s lives – and mental health.
“We have always known the major role teachers play in not just the education of our young people but in their lives generally," she said. "Many of us get to spend more time with them than parents.
“Now a national charity – Young Minds – has quantified the extent of that role when it comes to supporting pupils’ mental health, yet teachers are struggling to cope.
“We have a growing number of children with increasingly complex emotional, behavioural and learning needs – all of which can negatively impact mental health.
“Teachers are trying to support and juggle their needs along with those of the other students, despite the fact that funding has been increasingly stifled."
She added that the charity Young Minds have revealed that half of the young people it recently surveyed (who were awaiting support for mental health issues) turned to teachers for help.
“The fact the schools here are struggling with ever fewer resources has now also been recently quantified by a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which revealed that in the last decade Northern Ireland has suffered more from educational cuts than any other UK region.
“Yet we have one of the highest rates of poor mental health among young people, one of the highest of childhood poverty and we are still recovering from a post-conflict situation..
“If any region needs support it is ours and teachers, in the central care role they play, need that support more than most.
"Schools should be prioritised when it comes to funding resources to help children and young people.
“Not to provide this help must surely be one of the most cynical acts of neglect any government can inflict on its most vulnerable – yet most precious – resource, its children.”